Diminishing Returns

Friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the older world, the first observers of mutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to inquire, what has America done for the benefit of mankind? let our answer be this:

America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama, the European World, will be contests between inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

From a speech by John Quincy Adams, commenting on the document that established our country, and the principles which guided its creation. A divine work, with insight on America’s past, present, and future.
Noteworthy Articles from August 2014

The Squeeze on the MIddlebrow: A Resurgence in Inequality and Its Effects on Culture

What makes the middlebrows so contemptible? Woolf’s tautological response is their very middleness, their inability to be either one thing or another, and their habit of “indistinguishably and rather nastily” mixing up art and life (the pure, complementary pursuits of the high and the low) with things like “money, fame, power or prestige.” The natural affinity of the high and low, and their mutual suspicion of the middle, has been a remarkably durable idea, though it has never proven to be anything more than an idea, a nostalgic vision of ideal order. At heart it is a fantasy of aesthetic authenticity secured by static and hierarchical social distinctions. A world of landlords and peasants, of masters and servant, of patrons and workers is one in which art and life harmonize. In such a world, the middle will always be a place of vulgarity and ostentation, of the kind of money-grubbing, backslapping, self-conscious display Woolf (or at least her notional duchess) would flee to the basement to avoid.

Everything Happens So Much

Now that we’re living in the age of instant access, though, why does it all feel… a little less satisfying than we thought it would? I really started wondering this late last year, after reading Alexis C. Madrigal’s thought-provoking piece for The Atlantic, arguing that 2013 was “the year ‘the stream’ crested.” “[N]ow the Internet’s media landscape is like a never-ending store, where everything is free,” he wrote. “No matter how hard you sprint for the horizon, it keeps receding. There is always something more.” At first, this sense of infinity was thrilling. But by last year Madrigal (and anyone who’d been diagnosed with a case of FOMO) noticed a certain exhaustion, and even a kind of sadness, setting in. “Who can keep up?” he wondered. “There is a melancholy to the infinite scroll.”…..Music used to be a commodity, but now—in a moment where the term “attention economy” often gets thrown around—that status is reserved for our focus and our time.

A Memoir Is Not a Status Update

In an essay on Emily Dickinson, the poet Adrienne Rich once wrote, “It is always what is under pressure in us, especially under pressure of concealment—that explodes in poetry.” We live in a time in which little is concealed, and that pressure valve—the one that every writer is intimate with—rarely has a chance to fill and fill to the point of explosion..…I’m grateful that I wasn’t a young writer with a blog or a massive following on social media. The years of silence were deepening ones. My story burrowed its way deeper and deeper into my being until it became a story I could turn inside out, hold to the light like a prism, craft into a story that was bigger than its small, sorry details.

A writer should be an active intellectual leader of his time, not a passive follower riding any current. A writer should shape the values of his culture, he should project and concretize the value goals of man’s life. This is the essence of the Romantic school of literature, which has all but vanished from today’s scene.
Ayn Rand
just-a-stone:

Back in the PNW, where my little brother literally lives on a sailboat.  #seattle #shipcanal #boat #sailboat #pnw

just-a-stone:

Back in the PNW, where my little brother literally lives on a sailboat.
#seattle #shipcanal #boat #sailboat #pnw

Watching this was identical to reading Ayn Rand. Ellsworth Toohey’s words keep echoing in my head. The soul, Peter, the soul.

I define “hipster” as someone who is publicly critical of a specific subset of Popular Culture.1 I am critical of everything, which is why I’m often accused of being a hipster.2 But my critical spirit comes primarily from this: a lifelong concern with truth and reason, rather than a need to cope with social traumas or to impress a clique of the self-aware.

Because of the importance I place on truth and reason, I bristle when I watch this.

I realize that Fox News isn’t known to be representative of those virtues. But the lies being taught and affirmed here are controversial to almost no one. Celebrities, especially Kanye West, “are irrelevant.” They have no right to use metaphors. Fame has made them “out of touch with reality.”

I have no problem with iconoclasm, if its concern is with truth.3 But here, and ninety-eight percent of the time, it isn’t. It’s an emotional reaction. Similar to an allergic reaction, iconoclasm is a disease you can’t help, a genetic hypersensitivity. It’s no coincidence that the villain in “The Incredibles”—who starts a genocide on superheroes and wants to destroy the concept of greatness—calls himself Syndrome.

Fox News, and in fact, all news media know that arousing and exploiting emotions, from iconoclastic scorn to the classics of guilt and anger, keeps them in business. While truth is a minor concern for some, for most, it’s the enemy. When they can get everyone mad4 at Kanye West again, they’ve won the battle. But when they can get everyone else mad at Stacey Dash, they’ve won the war.5

See, the title of this video says, “Stacey Dash – ‘Kanye West Should Try Getting Raped in Prison’.” She did not say that, yet there it is in quotation marks. And look at all the reports on it. They also misquote and misparaphrase her words to insinuate that she believes Kanye West deserves to be raped. Reason will tell you that no one, let alone a public figure, would believe, let alone say that someone deserves to be raped as a learning experience.6

But that’s what they want you to hear—not what she said, but what they want you to think she said. Do not reason, or dig for the truth of this matter, be outraged. For the last ten years, Kanye West has been trying to get people to understand this. When he “rants” about how he has a human right to fight for a better life for himself and his family, or when Stacey Dash discusses her belief that West lacks empathy, the media and the memes respond with the same tired, reactionary chorus, discarding the truth and intent of what they say with the superficial and the surface—a surface which they distort on a regular basis. If you’re going to think critically, they want you to be lazily critical of the most obvious things, and buy into their narrative, which values the trendy far more than the truthful. They want you to become like a hipster.

So we see this and respond accordingly. Brood over your disgust with these spoiled, banal, brainless celebrities. They are characters, not souls. And remember, the artist exists for you, to feed you, to cater to you. If they make a stand for truth, or if they show any trace of selfishness, crucify.8

Now wonder why it feels like they have stolen “you from you.”9 Why you won’t pursue your dreams, why you hate yourself, why you can’t appreciate the moment you’re in. Or why you’re terrified by a crowd of people, why you’re petrified by small talk, why you need so badly for everyone to approve of you,10 to “accept” you, to “stop judging!!:((”. Why every belief you have begins with a qualifier and ends with an apology. Why discomfort is your only natural emotion.11

It’s almost become the world that Ellsworth Toohey intended it to be in The Fountainhead. I realize that I don’t live in a dichotomy of artists and second-handers, producers and parasites, or Roark’s ideology versus Toohey’s ideology. But I see videos like this, and I hear the affirmations. And I hear people talk about how we’re controlled by the internet (something collectivist by its very nature), and say that they have little to no problem with that. And I see the despair in eyes of everyone who, intentionally or not, subscribed to the Tooheyian belief that selfishness is a four-letter word, and collectivism is the highest ideal, and now live lives they hate and hold convictions they don’t follow. And I realize that the scale has slid much too far.

But the sliding of the scale wasn’t caused by videos like this. Your greatest oppressor is yourself. Man can try to exploit you, or outright rob you, but he cannot take that which is most important: the soul. But every day people hand it on over, and not just by supporting the Communist party. Those who say, “I’m bored,” do not realize they have a soul. Those who hate themselves profane their soul. Those whose happiness depends on the approval of others mock their soul. Art, however, has the power to end such madness. This idea is what Howard Roark fought for, and what Kanye West has come close to articulating—closer than any living artist, and on the widest scale possible.

I don’t want a world where everyone thinks and lives like Roark or West. But I want a world where everyone realizes that they have a soul. The sobering knowledge that you are in ownership of and thus responsible for a body and mind that was created by God, and that “what we do in life echoes in eternity.” Perhaps then we can value reason and truth, instead of giving memes and news media power over our thought, and value ourselves, instead of frantically trying to manage how other people value us, and value our art and our aesthetic sense, instead of cloaking it in irony or shame.

The paradoxical nature of this makes it difficult to accept. For how can we learn to value the invaluable? Until that happens, boredom, malaise, regret, self-hatred, misanthropy, and parasitism12 will continue in their cyclic tyranny over us all. 

“First thing they do is crush your dreams, crush your dreams. Then add a couple drops of low self-esteem. And then…make everything not what it seems. And control you with lies, and control you with lies. But we goin’ outta control tonight.” 9

1 Or someone who is critical by being insincerely appreciative.

2 Or because I appreciate things I’m not supposed to, so people assume I’m being “ironic.”

Just like I have no problem if you’re a fan of obscure musicians, unless your main motivation is that you hate everyone who likes Luke Bryan.

4 Say it with me: I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore. Until that keeps you from tuning in.

5 Please excuse the insensitive metaphor. Send me overseas to the heat of battle, so I can learn empathy and will no longer say such foolish things.

6 You might argue that the news media knows that, obviously, she did not literally mean that, and knows that people who read their reports recognize figurative language when they see it. Then why didn’t they quote her directly and accurately? And what made it worth reporting on in the first place? And why did it strike a nerve with so many people? Simple answer to all three: hipsters love finding every reason they can to hate Fox News. 

8 As Rand and I would contend, those actually characterize the best artists. 

9 Taken from this Visionary Stream of Consciousness

10 Usually in the form of “likes” and “follows.”

11 This discomfort is thanks to “altruist” relativism. They hate to be happy, because other people aren’t as happy as them. They hate to be sad, because it’s not fair to people who are sadder than them. All they know is that they despise those who exude comfort—the most common pejorative is “douchebag.” They also despise those with well-formed beliefs. Just call them “pretentious,” because reasoning against them takes too much work.

12 These emotional reactions are all you see when you read the comments on any article about Kim Kardashian. Back in 2012, I was so disturbed by this that I decided to start watching Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Noteworthy Articles From This Month

In Defense of Zach Braff’s Garden State

Garden State, along with The O.C., paved the way for the Grey’s Anatomying of indie music and helped develop the hipster middlebrow that is simultaneously too hip for the unhip and too unhip for the hip. The Shins’ newfound popularity infuriated both former fans and those prone to hate the Shins for not being Bon Jovi. So as “hipster” grew to become a pejorative thrown around by everyone to mock basically everyone else, Garden State got hit in the crossfire. “You probably listen to the Garden State soundtrack” is likely a real insult said recently by both an artisanal pretzel baker/tattoo artist in Bushwick and a state school fraternity president.

Millennials’ Political Views Don’t Make Any Sense

You get the sense, reading the Reason Foundation and Pew studies, that a savvy pollster could trick a young person into supporting basically any economic policy in the world with the right combination of triggers. Conservative and liberal partisans can cherry-pick this survey to paint Millennials as whatever ideology they want….Conservatives can say: 65 percent of Millennials would like to cut spending. Liberals can say: 62 percent would like to spend more on infrastructure and jobs.

6 Scientific Reasons You Can’t Stop Looking At Ruin Porn

The tragedy paradox, a close cousin to hedonic reversal, finds that the sadder a particular aesthetic experience (sad movies, films, songs, etc.), the greater a viewer’s enjoyment will be. The easiest explanation of this paradox—offered in a recent study of sad films—is that “we simply like to be moved.” Another recent study of tragic enjoyment found that such situations make us reflect on life, and in particular our relationships, in ways that ultimately make us happy.

What’s on your mind?
  • Unlike curmudgeonly essayists, I’m not upset with those who imprison themselves in their smart phone. The social and individual opportunities that they forfeit, I gain.
  • For those who dislike the inaccurate portrayals of “The Social Network,” you missed the point. Fincher falsely represented Zuckerberg, because Zuckerberg let everyone falsely represent themselves. 
  • It’s now a foreign concept to be sincerely patriotic.
  • For those who live the parasitic life, Buzzfeed is foremost among their acknowledged vices, and traveling is foremost among their perceived virtues.
  • Currently the only thing on my Bucket List is to have someone described as my “on-and-off-again flame.” 
  • You can believe that a “like” on your post means one of a dozen things, or absolutely nothing at all. Both theories are valid, but one is altogether poisonous.
  • Writers need to stop this awful trend of interjecting “well” into their sentences, as in, “the new Doritos Locos Tacos are pretty, well, loco.” So you’re acknowledging how stupid and lazy your punchline is? How about not writing it then.
  • I bet high-schoolers today are having lots of fun sneaking Snapchats, just like we had fun sneaking text messages. But remember the true thrill of note passing? I pity those who have never known, nor will know that feeling. The oddest thing happened when I did it for the first time in forever. As I wrote and passed a note, my heart pounded. It was beautiful. It meant I was alive.
  • There is something that is lost when you finally download that song. Is it the serendipitous charm from when you hear it on the radio, at an event, or your friend’s iPod? Or is it because art is not meant to be possessed? There are still moments of ecstasy and elevated appreciation over time for the songs in my iTunes library, but there is an idiopathic component to that joy which is no longer present. I’m probably not going to download “Radio” by Darius Rucker.
  • It is not until you accept a label that you are able to achieve. Don’t be like Kanye West and fight against being boxed in
With great steeze comes great responsibility.

With great steeze comes great responsibility.

Artists must take responsibility for finding the form to make our dreams real. They must assess a work as honestly as possible, seeking integrity. At one time, irony served to challenge the establishment; now it is the establishment. The art of irony has turned into ironic art. Irony for irony’s sake. A smart aleck making bomb noises in front of a city in ruins……Skeptics reject sincerity because they worry blind belief can lead to such evils as the Ku Klux Klan and Nazism. They think strong conviction implies vulnerability to emotional rhetoric and lack of critical awareness.

I spent several hours on this, rearranging sentences, replacing words, and simplifying ideas. Originally I wanted to submit it to the Falcon, so I had to reduce things considerably. The opinion editor, rather unprofessionally, chose not to respond, so I shrugged it off, content in having my thought crystallized and having made these discoveries about myself and my past. 

Then I thought, hey, why don’t I submit it to Thought Catalog. I like how their page design enables people to actually read the words of an article without being assaulted by dozens of ads and links along the way. It would be sweet to see this published somewhere, and have that on my resume.

But on submission, your only option is to agree to the following:

We reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to (a) edit the Content…..

In my arrogance that stemmed from having spent hours editing it already, I didn’t really register the significance of this….for what more was there to edit, I thought. After submitting, I got a bad feeling when I realized, uh oh, I don’t get to write the “tags” or upload the accompanying image. And maybe there will be edits. Hopefully they don’t destroy the meaning.

Checking my email the next day, here was the link to my article, which, I was surprised to find, had been quickly published. There was also an email from Jaxon Hawks, which said, “just wanted to say thank you for the shout in your blog. Glad to have you aboard bud!” That was really cool to get, because I’ve been listening to him since before he was a DJ at JRFM, and because he posted it to their facebook page

And then I reread the article, dismayed at what I saw. There were edits, plenty of them. My satisfaction from being published was largely outweighed by the revulsion I felt to this new version. I will now take the opportunity to address the editor, in a not-so-edited fashion. 

Here is the original writing:

I tried complaining, I tried covering my ears…..All those natural behaviors we have when confronted with a culture we don’t understand. 

You edited this to say: “I tried all those natural behaviors.” Good job catching onto my use of anaphora, but I left “I tried” off of this sentence for what should be an obvious reason: you can’t “try” something that comes naturally. I naturally disliked country, because it was a representation of a culture I didn’t understand, and then I tried various tactics to get it away from me. The edit makes it sound like I’m sitting there as a child, going, “oh, what natural behavior should I try next.” Sweet. 

Meanwhile, the big singles of the mid-2000s era won me over, also because of striking imagery, moreso because of profound lessons. 

This became: “also not only because of their striking imagery, moreso but because of their profound lessons.” Ever heard of an implied pronoun? I did write “their,” and then struck it out because it was unnecessary, rhetorically and grammatically. I chose the word “also” because I wanted to tie “striking imagery” to “Something Like That,” rather than seem like I was just dropping that phrase in from nowhere. And I did consider “not only” for the conjunction, but noticing it in a paragraph near the end of my essay, found it lame to use that “not only…but” sentence construction twice. But well, here it is again, lame as can be.  

“Summertime” and “Young” by Kenny Chesney showed me how to cherish the season and stage of life you’re in.

This became: “showed me how to cherish the season and your current stage of life.” Not that irritating of an edit, and economical at that. My original made sense though. “Summertime” is about cherishing a season (Summer), and “Young” is about cherishing a stage of life (you can find many other meanings and lessons in those songs as well, those were just some that jumped out to me….).

I didn’t fully grasp these messages until years later. Something in them just sounded ambiguously profound……Which is how country, and heck, all music should be enjoyed: first with heart, then with head.

This became: “I didn’t fully grasp these messages until years later, but something in them just sounded ambiguously profound…..Which is This how country and all music should be enjoyed: first with your heart, then with your head.” After I wrote this piece, I was annoyed by how often I used the word “but,” so I deleted that word as much as I could. You can see why it was kind of infuriating to see it put back in. And then we have more additions of the implied pronoun. Unnecessary, annoying, and only serves to deemphasize, it’s just more words to distract from the content. I will concede that I should have wrote “Something in those songs” rather than “Something in them.” Possible pronoun confusion (“them,” I intended to substitute for “songs,” not “messages”) now made even more obvious by the combining of the sentences. And….”This how?” There’s a time and place to drop helping verbs (if you’re Kanye West, for instance), but this is not one. Yes, you’re human and make typographic mistakes, but you wouldn’t have made this mistake if you just left it alone. 

That wasn’t hard to do with the classics like…

Changed into: “That wasn’t hard to do with the classics like such as….” The word “like” literally means “such as.” All you did was make the sentence more formal sounding than I wanted, and upped the word count which I took pains to reduce.

They’re hyperbolic, they’re unapologetic, they’re sincerely patriotic, and I was charmed by that audacity.

Became: “They’re hyperbolic, they’re unapologetic, and they’re sincerely patriotic, and I was charmed by that audacity. Their audacity charmed me.” This is an interesting reversal of sorts. Now you’re taking out pronouns that I actually chose not to leave as implied. Are we both contradicting ourselves here? Well, those 3 qualities (hyperbolic, unapologetic, patriotic) aren’t normally related or associated, so I felt they sounded awkward if not broken up with some anaphora. Also, I took great pains to make sure that every sentence was a proper sequel to the one prior. With “their audacity charmed me” it’s not totally clear that the audacity came from those 3 qualities, qualities which make a song worthy to be called audacious. Points for making the sentence active rather than passive, but passive voice is mostly a crime when overused by students trying to pad out the word count of their paper and/or sound academic. And what’s the real problem with passive voice? It weakens a sentence. But the edit made it weaker. How could that be? Sentences get much of their power for how they end, and I consciously selected “audacity” to be the lingering note. Then I read this essay back and it has this retarded-sounding, impactless, “their audacity charmed me.” 

….when I went to the Washington FFA State Convention. 

Became: “when I went to the Washington FFA (Future Farmers of America) state convention." Good job doing your homework, but if you really would have looked, you’d have seen that FFA hasn’t stood for that since the 80s. And the reader doesn’t need to know what it stands for, they can google it in two seconds if by some chance they don’t grasp what’s going on through context clues. And then you had to go ahead an uncapitalize "state convention," when it is specifically the Washington FFA’s, and not just a general state convention. I kind of hate this essay now.

that song wasn’t made to be exclusively for the listening of middle-aged farmers,….

Became: “that song wasn’t made to be exclusively for the listening of middle-aged farmers.” Those were actually some good edits. Nice catch.

My country cred is disputable, and yet, my appreciation is no less diminished. 

Here, you just got rid of the comma after “yet.” That was another good move, grammatically sound and better for the rhythm of the sentence. Props.

Appreciation of what, exactly? Greatness. Turn on the radio and hear it for yourself. 

Became: “Turn on the radio and hear the greatness for yourself.” This was one of the most devastating, head-to-the-desk-inducing edits. You see, I’ll put my hand on The Elements of Style and swear by its minimalist principles, but I recognize that too much editing can destroy meaning, rhythm, logical progression, etc. That happened here, when we go from “my appreciation is no less diminished,” straight into “turn on the radio and hear the greatness for yourself.”

The word “greatness,” was meant to be the focus of that paragraph, and show the things which qualify to me, as greatness which deserves appreciation. I intended to imply this: through the use of these specific talents, which much less than 1% of the population has, these artists have accomplished the elevation of the human spirit, the cataloging of a current moment in time, in a culture, in a personhood: the uplifting expression of the innermost self—of themselves and, judging by their popularity, for many others. These are some of the noblest functions of art. 

Now the paragraph just sounds awkwardly dropped in, just a showoff-y survey of artists that I like, with the word “greatness” robbed of its emphasis and purpose. 

and worst of all…conservative politics.

The three dots were replaced with a comma. Again, your edits are only serving to soften ideas that I wanted to really land. 

I’d ascribe this mistake to the memefication of our media intake, which encourages shallow, inaccurate, and highly pixelated ways of thinking (but that’s a discussion for another time). 

Became: “I’d ascribe this mistake to the memefication of our media climate, which encourages shallow and highly inaccurate, and highly pixelated ways of thinking.” Honestly, I wasn’t surprised that “memefication” was taken out. But I don’t think that a little portmanteau was unearned or inappropriate here, whether this was to be published in the school newspaper, or your high-minded website, which has such a commitment to the purity of the English language.

And that phrase, “media climate,” just makes my stomach turn. It’s so lame, thoughtless sounding, it makes me glad that I chose not to put my real name on the submission.

Which is why I can only….

Replaced “which” with “this.” Fine by me.

Because it sounds like family and friends, and crowds of overjoyed people singing aloud. 

Removed “and,” and replaced with a comma. I don’t really have the energy left to argue this one. Just another example of the essay being made blander and blander. Voice being shut down in favor of the commonplace.

If I can go from hatred to that in a few years’ time, I believe there’s a hillbilly bone in all of us.

Became: “If I can go from hatred to that hating all that to loving it in a few years’ time…” What the shit? How did you miss the point of this final sentence? “That,” as I intended, meant the attitude I now have, as shown in this paragraph. “That,” as you intended, means…..what? “Hating all that.” Coming at the end of the paragraph, it now sounds like I hated cold beer, family, friends, all the things I just described. Just wow

….

I suspect this was done by Jim Goad, who emailed me the link. And I suspect he has little respect for the work he edits, seeing as he tastelessly added the tags, “Deliverance,” and “Ned Beatty rape scene,” and the articles he writes tend toward lewdness, bitterness, and contempt for the reader. I recognize that if I want to be a writer, I’ll need to deal with editors, and make compromises with them, but I’d like to do that face-to-face, or through email, and have a chance to do so prior to publishing. With that, I unreluctantly end the relationship between this website and me.